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Sports Weekend | NHRA / WINSTON FINALS

Scelzi Goes Through Formality


It won't be official until late Saturday afternoon, but for all intents and purposes, Gary Scelzi has repeated as the National Hot Rod Assn.'s top-fuel champion.

When the Fresno driver of Alan Johnson's dragster had an elapsed time of 4.678 seconds during Thursday's first round of the 34th annual Winston Finals, it put him in fourth position and virtually assured him of a spot in Sunday's 16-car elimination field.

All Scelzi needs do to win his second consecutive championship and its $200,000 bonus is qualify for the first round.

Doug Kalitta, nephew of the legendary Connie Kalitta, grabbed the No. 1 top-fuel position at 4.580 seconds with a top speed of 313.69 mph.

On a day ideal for record-breaking--69 degrees and a barometer reading of 29.07 at sea level--records for the Pomona Raceway's quarter-mile strip fell in pro stock and pro stock bike.

Warren Johnson, "W.J." from Sugar Hill, Ga., obliterated pro stock standards with a 201.02 mph run in 6.891 seconds, both track records, in his Pontiac Firebird. It was the 22nd time Johnson had bettered 200 mph after first breaking the pro stock barrier April 25, 1997, at Richmond, Va.

The 55-year-old Georgian took a big bite out of his year-old track records of 198.67 mph and 6.927 seconds.

"As far as atmospheric conditions are concerned, the track was probably the best it will be all weekend," said Johnson, who has already clinched his fourth NHRA championship. "Mother Nature dictates what these normally aspirated engines will do, and you can't fool Mother Nature.

"If the track and weather conditions stay the same, we should be able to improve to a 6.87. Today's run wasn't very good. The car moved to the left, rattled the tires a little when it got out of the groove."

Angelle Seeling, riding a '93 Suzuki, qualified at 7.300 to better defending champion Matt Hines' 7.344 pro stock bike mark set in 1996.

Seven-time funny car champion John Force moved closer to his eighth title by qualifying his Mustang at 5.058 seconds, second quickest. Force must qualify and win his first-round match to assure his Castrol team the championship.

Ron Capps, the only driver with a mathematical chance of catching Force, is 11th after running a disappointing 10.138 in Don Prudhomme's Camaro. Veteran Al Hoffman is temporarily No. 1 with a 4.976 ET at 307.58 mph.


A memorial fund auction of racing memorability will be held today for the family of pro stock bike champion John Myers, who was killed in a non-racing accident last August. It will take place in the infield hospitality tent immediately after pro qualifying, which starts at 2 p.m.

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